The Language of Equals

Written by David Ackley
Review by Viviane Crystal

Ramanujan, an Indian mathematician, travels from India to Cambridge, England, just before the outbreak of WWI. He is a devout Hindu Vaishnavite and worshipper of Namagiri Amman. His life is entirely permeated by his faith. Even many of his mathematical theories come to him in visions and dreams that he believes are from Namagiri. He leaves behind his mother and a 14-year-old wife as he proceeds to a two-year period of collaborative work with a brilliant classical scholar and mathematician, Mr. Hardy.

The novel describes Ramanujan’s experience during those two years, during which he endures prejudice and initially not much contact with other Indians. His strict religious convictions mean he will not eat anything that is not purely vegetarian. Ramanujan is highly insecure about his lack of background education and neglect in providing specific steps for his math discoveries. He has success in his studies and is ultimately accepted as a mathematical Fellow, but he gradually becomes depressed and physically ill, with a diagnosis of possible tuberculosis, and eventually tries to end his troubles. Added to this, WWI takes its toll on many characters.

The characterization of Ramanujan is excellent as readers learn of his every thought, dream, and interaction with both English and Indian friends. His story is about cultural separation and adaptation, all dependent on personality and political issues prevalent at the time. Math is the language of equals bonding all together and promising satisfaction. This is nicely crafted historical fiction.